The Mills Trophy Race is one of the real jewels of racing on the Great Lakes. While most of us have heard of the Mackinac races, there are a handful of other notable Great Lakes distance races that get far less press: the Trans-Superior, the Trans-Erie, and the Mills.
This year, the 103-year-old Mills Trophy Race had some big differences from years past, though it preserved the traditional evening start from Toledo. As stated in the original DOG by Comm. Mills of Detroit, the course is to be "for the purpose of encouraging proficiency in the art of navigation upon the Great Lakes by means of popular contests in yachting." The previous course went south to Cedar Point, then up through Canadian waters around Pelee Island and back down to the finish at Put-in-Bay. This year’s course was changed to stay south to avoid the multitude of fishing nets (legal and illegal) around the north end of the old course. They can present a nuisance at best and be downright dangerous to a boat planing at speed with its spinnaker up.
The first of over 10 starts for 17 classes including 140+ entries was at 1700, with a close reach to the first mark between Toledo and the Detroit River, and a beat for most of the long leg to the mark at Marblehead Point. The one challenge to naviguessors and snacticians was about the wind shift. Everybody saw the same thing – a big steady right hand shift but the million dollar question was: when? Timing the shift and positioning for it was a key to success for those in the top of the fleet.
We decided to stay close to the rhumb line, as our boat goes uphill nicely, and wait to crack off when the wind shifted, thus saving some miles. Some of the faster boats took a more northerly approach – but when the shift happened, it wasn’t enough for them. Our strategy paid off, and after sailing 20-something miles we found ourselves within sight of multi-hulls and some of the IRC guys that we had not seen since our first rounding. After turning the new-for-2010 mark outside Huron, Ohio, we sailed through most of the night, watching shooting stars while driving the kite and cruising at hull speed with some light surfing thrown in. We arrived at Put-in-Bay at 0328 making our finish good enough for a 3rd in class. Full Results
When the boats come in to PIB, pretty much everybody starts partying as soon as the sails are stowed. The party goes on throughout the next day, and many sailor zombies can be seen staggering around PIB, or hiding out in some air conditioned bar. Now I must confess, I am a relative newbie compared to all those Mills veterans out there, but I do believe in following tradition!
The course, the excellent work by the RC, and the great group of sailors on and around Lake Erie make the drive worth it for this sailor from Kentucky. Now I just need to recover from Mills and get primed for Cleveland Race Week!